The Genesee Oaks : A Link To The Past

Like distant voices from a forgotten past, the massive trees stand in testament to the history of Geneseo. The gigantic sentinels, mostly Oak trees, tell fascinating stories if only one will learn to listen. One who has is David Robertson of SUNY Geneseo. He, along with colleagues from UB, have been conducting a study on the trees for six years, a relatively short time in the lives of these ancient beings. " We have here in Geneseo likely some of the biggest and oldest Oak trees in the state. They're very well known locally, artists have been coming to Geneseo for a century or more to paint our trees, they are much beloved."

The mighty Oaks tell the story of two cultures that despite their differences shared a mutual respect for the trees and over time grew to become their guardians .Robertson explains. " I think it's clear that these trees are old, that they pre-date European arrival, and that these trees grew in open conditions, that this landscape was a used and open space, that these trees are likely artifacts of Seneca occupation, Seneca land use here in the valley, that have subsequently been protected through several generations of land stewardship here in the valley."

After the Senecas were forced from their land, much of it ended up in the possession of James Wadsworth, a local land developer who saw the same sublime landscape the Native occupants did. " They saw the value and beauty of the large Oak trees," said Robertson. " And protected them on their home properties, but also protected them on leased properties through shade tree protection clauses, and this was very progressive sort of agricultural practice for early in the 19th century."

The Geneseo Professor says that the land is still revered, protected by descendants of the Wadsworth family, as well as other owners in the area. It's a chronicle that imparts meaning even today. " I think that there's a story to be told about land stewardship, certainly, that's an important one, that we can protect beautiful spaces and important cultural artifacts and natural features like these trees, I think that's an important lesson to draw."

Like the roots of these centuries old Oaks, the knowledge coursing within runs deep, and is there for all to tap...all we must do is listen. " You can tell that they've really been through a lot in their lifetime," Robertson says " And they are survivors, and they are strong, and there's wisdom in them it seems, it's a humbling experience, and a very gratifying experience to study these trees."


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